It's an exciting time for the auto enthusiast, be it muscle cars, hot rods, or in our case, classic trucks. Never before has there been such vast industry to support our hobby with technologies that rival the latest to come out of Detroit, Germany, or Japan. A massive reproduction industry also exists, making it easier than ever to restore that '53 Chevy back to its original condition, complete with all the badges, trim, and options. Heck, those Advanced Designs truck cabs are even being reproduced, so to say that there's a healthy interest in the classic truck market is putting it lightly.
Unfortunately, there also exists a fairly strong resistance seeking to destroy that industry and with it our hobby as a whole: ill-advised and poorly conceived government intervention. More than ever before, decision makers in Washington are being pressured to pass restrictive legislation geared to save the planet from those horrible, gas guzzling, ozone depleting, hoopties we like to call classic trucks. Under the banner of "global warming" (or is it "climate change" now?!), it seems that more energy is being expelled to reduce one's carbon footprint than was being expelled in the first place.
It's this "sky is falling" scenario that has prompted some of the most dramatic legislation and regulation in years concerning the classic automobile hobby. The misguided Cash for Clunkers program brought the "problem" of old, pollution-riddled cars into the national spotlight, albeit for all the wrong reasons. What were painted as smog-inducing eyesores by the mainstream media in reality are the classic cars and trucks that reside in our garages, pampered to a point beyond that of our children, and driven less than a few thousand miles per year. Not exactly the gross polluters they're made out to be.
The Specialty Equipment Market Association, SEMA for short, knows this all too well and has worked for years to defend the classic car hobby as well as the industry it supports on the national, state, and local level. And while there is no doubt that our hobby is in danger of becoming embroiled in bureaucratic red tape that causes one to wonder if such a lifestyle will even be available for future generations to enjoy, SEMA has cultivated a following of a fair number of sympathetic lawmakers who have introduced positive legislation that will relax even the most pessimistic gearhead.
The future of our hobby depends on you. The ballot box is one venue for making your views known. We also urge you to work collectively with your fellow enthusiasts. How? Join the SEMA Action Network (SAN). The SAN is a partnership between enthusiasts, car clubs, and members of the specialty auto parts industry in the U.S. and Canada who have pledged to join forces in support of legislative solutions for the auto hobby. It's free to join and the SAN keeps you informed about pending legislation and regulations, both good and bad, that will impact your state or the entire country. It also provides you with action alerts, speaking points, and lawmaker contact information if you want to support or oppose a bill. Join now at www.semasan.com.
We've put together a number of topics that concern the classic truck hobby when it comes to the possible changes in laws and legislation that may have an effect on all of us. They range from the moronic to the mundane, but without the fight that SEMA and the SAN puts up for our benefit, they all have the possibility of gaining support from representatives more interested in votes than voters.
For more information and to view a complete list of state legislators who support the hobby, plus the 10 best and worst bills of the 2009-2010 legislative session, log on to www.customclassictrucks.com.
State agencies and legislatures sometimes pursue vehicle height restrictions. A compromise between regulators and modifiers who lower vehicles from the original height can apply the standard of the "scrub line." A scrub line is an imaginary surface created if lines were drawn from the bottom of the wheel rim on one side to the bottom of the tire on the other side. When lines are drawn from both sides using a taut string, an ''X'' under the vehicle's suspension is created. A suspension or chassis component, excepting exhaust systems and sheetmetal, may not be below the top portion of this "X."
Many states choose simply to place limitations on maximum vehicle height. Others prohibit modification of a vehicle in a way that would cause the vehicle body or chassis to come into contact with the ground, expose the fuel tank to damage from collision, or cause the wheels to come in contact with the body.
Street Rod & Custom Vehicle Registration and Titling Process
Special titling and registration designation and recognition of specialty cars including antique, street rod, custom, classic, collector, modified, replica, and kit car vehicles has led to an easing of certain equipment standards and exemptions from stringent emission testing, allowing enthusiasts to enjoy the auto hobby legally and provide more business opportunities to industry. The SAN supports initiatives to establish distinctive license plates and separate vehicle code definitions for these cars to increase awareness and allow special consideration during emission testing and equipment inspections. The SAN also supports initiatives to create classic motor vehicle project titles that apply to vehicles undergoing restoration that are at least 25 years old, not roadworthy, and currently without a title or with a title from another state. Additionally, the SAN also supports initiatives to establish minimal one-time registration fees for specialty vehicles.
So, what exactly are street rods and custom cars and what are the differences between the two? The street rod group is made up of vehicles with body types from manufacture years prior to 1949. Unlike antiques or vehicles found in the restoration niche, street rods have been altered with new equipment and usually take advantage of the many technological advances and upgrades. Street rod builders also commonly use other make or model components to tweak existing parts. Although custom cars are modified with similar materials as street rods, there is a key difference: customs were built from 1949 through the present day. Most of the classic truck market falls into the latter category.
However, beloved street rods and customs (including kit cars and replicas) have long struggled to find their place in the law. Almost all states have processes through which antiques can be registered, but fewer provide adequately for modified cars. Hobbyists attempting to title and register vehicles that they have built from the ground up must often find loopholes in their state's code to get it out on the road. The steps can be so time-consuming and confusing that many throw in the towel.
Summary of the SEMA Street Rod Custom Vehicle Bill
Defines a street rod as an altered vehicle manufactured before 1949 and a custom vehicle as an altered vehicle manufactured after 1948.
Provides specific registration classes and license plates for street rods and custom vehicles.
Provides that replica vehicles and kit cars will be assigned the same model-year designations as the production vehicles they most closely resemble and allows the use of non-original materials.
Exempts street rods and custom vehicles from periodic vehicle inspections and emissions inspections.
Provides that vehicles titled and registered as street rods and custom vehicles may only be used for occasional transportation, exhibitions, club activities, parades, tours, etc. and not for general daily transportation.
In California, a brake and...
In California, a brake and lamp inspection done by an ASE-certified technician is part of the initial registration and titling process of a specially constructed vehicle.
Exempts street rods and custom vehicles from a range of standard equipment requirements.
Allows the use of blue-dot taillights on street rods and custom vehicles.
Antique Vehicle Taxes & Fees
Older cars are more infrequently driven than daily drivers; they are usually second or third vehicles deserving of reduced taxes and registration fees. While some states have attempted to increase the fees on these vehicles to fill gaps in their recession-hit coffers, others have continued the fight to lower the cost of owning one of America's most treasured antiques.
A Replacement Identification...
A Replacement Identification Number placard is affixed by the Highway Patrol on specially constructed vehicles, which acts as the VIN number.
In recent years, state and federal officials have attempted to implement emissions reduction programs that target older vehicles. Most scrappage programs allow "smokestack" industries to avoid reducing their own emissions by buying pollution credits generated through destroying these vehicles. These programs accelerate the normal retirement of vehicles through the purchase of older cars, which are then typically crushed into blocks of scrap metal. Hobbyists suffer from the indiscriminate destruction of older cars, trucks, and parts, which anyone undergoing a restoration project can attest. America safeguards its artistic and architectural heritage against indiscriminate destruction, and our automotive and industrial heritage deserves the same protection.
While some legislation designed to spur sales of new and used automobiles is positive, such as vouchers towards the purchase of a new or used car or tax credits to help upgrade, repair, or maintain older vehicles, scrappage provisions are not. Scrappage programs focus on vehicle age rather than actual emissions produced. This approach is based on the erroneous assumption that all "old cars are dirty cars." However, the true culprits are "gross polluters"-vehicles of any model year that are poorly maintained. Scrappage programs ignore better options like vehicle maintenance, repair, and upgrade programs that maximize the emissions systems of existing vehicles. In the past year, scrappage initiatives have been defeated in California, North Carolina, and Washington.
Enthusiasts played a vital role in altering federal scrappage legislation in 2009 when an amendment was worked into the "Cash for Clunkers" program to spare vehicles 25 years and older from the scrappage heap and expand parts recycling opportunities. Cash for Clunkers operated through voluntary consumer participation, allowing car owners to receive a voucher to help buy a new car in exchange for scrapping a less fuel-efficient vehicle. Vehicle hobbyists eased the program's effects by convincing lawmakers to include a requirement that the trade-in vehicle be a model year 1984 or newer vehicle. This provision helped safeguard older vehicles, which are irreplaceable to hobbyists as a source of restoration parts.
Hobbyists are becoming increasingly concerned about the many states and localities currently enforcing or attempting to legislate strict property or zoning laws that include restrictions on visible inoperable automobile bodies and parts. Often, removal of these vehicles from private property is enforced through local nuisance laws with minimal or no notice to the owner. Jurisdictions enforce or seek to enact these laws for a variety of reasons, most particularly because they believe: 1) inoperative vehicles are eyesores that adversely affect property values or 2) inoperative vehicles pose a health risk associated with leaking fluids and chemicals. Many such laws are drafted broadly, allowing for the confiscation of vehicles being repaired or restored.
For the purposes of these laws, "inoperable vehicles" are most often defined as those on which the engine, wheels, or other parts have been removed, altered, damaged, or allowed to deteriorate so that the vehicle cannot be driven. The following are some common conditions that cause vehicles to be in violation of these laws:
* Missing tires
* Vehicle on blocks
* Front windshield missing
* No engine
* Steering wheel missing
* License plate with expired registration date
* No license tag
Emissions and Smog Check Programs
Many states operate their own I/M (inspection and maintenance) programs in areas that the EPA has designated as a "nonattainment area," meaning that the area has not attained the EPA's required air quality. The EPA checks for carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide when designating these areas and when an area does not meet the standard for any individual pollutant, or any combination of the pollutants, then it is placed on the list of nonattainment areas.
To meet the EPA's emissions reduction requirements, many states are implementing more stringent emission (I/M) programs. An I/M program may be currently operating in your state, or could be soon.
Policy makers must properly focus inspection procedures and not confuse legitimate aftermarket parts with emission defeat devices and tampering violations. The hobby must also pursue proactive legislative initiatives to establish exemptions from inspections for low-mileage vehicles, classic vehicles (defined as 25 years old and older), and newer vehicles. It is useful to remind legislators that the emissions from this small portion of the vehicle fleet are negligible. This is especially true when you consider the low miles typically driven by hobby vehicles and the excellent condition in which these vehicles are maintained.
Equipment Standards & Inspections
Understanding how vehicles and car parts are regulated can be a bit confusing. Here is a quick overview.
The Federal government, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has the right to set, enforce, and investigate safety standards for new motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. These "Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards" (FMVSS) are performance-based. They do not dictate design elements. For example, the federal lighting standard prescribes the photometric requirements for a headlamp but does not dictate shape or size.
The FMVSS covers basic types of equipment (e.g., tires, rims, headlamps/taillamps, brake hoses, etc.) and establishes vehicle crashworthiness requirements (front and side impact, roof crush resistance, fuel system integrity, etc.).
Emissions and emissions-related parts are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and various state agencies, primary of which is the California Air Resources Board (CARB). For products sold in California (and states that have adopted the California standards), manufacturers must conform to standards issued by the CARB.
Federal law prohibits states from issuing motor vehicle safety regulations that conflict with federal standards. This is called federal preemption. However, states are free to enact and enforce safety and equipment regulations which are identical to the FMVSS or, in the absence of a federal rule, establish their own laws and regulations. The most frequent examples of individual state rules cover parts like "optional" or "accessory" lighting equipment, noise levels for exhaust and stereo systems, suspension height, and window-tinting. States also establish rules on how a vehicle is titled and registered. State and local jurisdictions have authority to regulate inoperable vehicles or determine whether an enthusiast is engaged in a business vs. private activity. State and local law enforcement officials issue tickets and inspect cars.
When it comes to exhaust noise, states can generally be divided into two major categories: states with noise standards and states without noise standards. Of the states with a test standard on the books, many ignore guidelines when handing out citations. Most states that have chosen to go the route of setting specifications choose to measure a vehicle's noise by decibels. States that have quantifiable noise standards on the books are shaded red on the map on the previous page. These standards often go unenforced. One reason these regulations are not enforced is that they are based on an in-use standard-exhaust noise is measured while a vehicle is in motion on the highway. The states that employ these operating standards typically divide vehicles into classes and then set separate standards: one for vehicles while driving on roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or less and a second standard for vehicles driving on roadways with a speed limit greater than 35 mph. The measurements are to be taken while the vehicle is in motion on the road, usually from a distance of 50 feet from the center lane of travel.
Other states choose not to specify a quantifiable noise standard. These states are shown in yellow on the map. Typical language in these states' statutes includes prohibitions on "excessive or unusual noise" from a vehicle's exhaust system. While most motorists believe that exhaust systems should not be used in a way that causes overly loud or objectionable noise, these vague provisions fail to provide a clear and objective standard for those seeking more durable exhaust systems that enhance a vehicle's appearance and increase performance.
Language that effectively limits the use of aftermarket exhausts can be found amongst both yellow and red states. Such language includes sentences such as "no person shall modify the exhaust system of a motor vehicle in any manner which will amplify or increase the noise or sound emitted louder than that emitted by the muffler originally installed on the vehicle." While such language does not specifically prohibit all modification, it does not provide any means of measuring whether a vehicle has been acceptably modified. Such language also negatively affects the aftermarket industry by placing the noise limit authority in the hands of the OEMs and ignores the fact that aftermarket exhaust systems are designed to make vehicles run more efficiently without increasing emissions.
Green on the map identifies the three states that have enacted SEMA model legislation to provide enthusiasts and law enforcement officials with a fair and enforceable alternative. The model legislation establishes a 95-decibel exhaust noise limit based on an industry standard adopted by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Under this standard (SAE J1169), a sound meter is placed 20 inches from the exhaust outlet at a 45-degree angle and the engine is revved to three quarters of maximum rated horsepower. The highest decibel reading is then recorded.
There are two main issues with respect to regulatory oversight, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).
VOCs include both man-made and naturally occurring chemical compounds that are released into the atmosphere as a gas. They are found in oil-based paints, adhesives, and cleaning supplies and may trigger respiratory irritation, headaches, or other health concerns. VOCs also react with nitrogen oxides and sunlight to form smog. Both federal and state regulators have imposed limits on VOC emissions, primarily at the manufacturer level. A number of products, from paint to engine degreasers and windshield washer fluids, have been reformulated to reduce their VOC levels. Additionally, there has been an effort to switch the public from oil-based paints and cleaning solvents (enamel, lacquer, mineral spirits, etc.) to water-based paints like latex. The paint industry has expanded the range of water-based finishes that are available to assist in the conversion. Sometimes it is not a voluntary switch. A number of states or urban areas have banned retail sales of certain oil-based products in an effort to combat smog.
Aerosol can spray paints are frequently used for smaller jobs and touch-up painting. They rely on VOC-emitting propellants, gasses used to which expand and force out the paint when the valve is opened. The propellants have changed over the years. Chlorofluorocarbons were banned in 1978 since they deplete the upper ozone layer. Butane and propane were then widely used until they were identified as significant smog contributors. The paint industry has more recently relied on a variety of hydrofluorocarbons to serve as propellants. To address VOCs in aerosol paints, both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California have limited the amount of propellants that can be used in spray paint. As with paints purchased in cans, the issue is largely being addressed at the manufacturer level through product reformulation.
HAPs pose a separate concern. They are hazardous metal compounds-cadmium, chromium, nickel, etc.-that become airborne during paint stripping operations or surface coating and autobody refinishing operations. The EPA now regulates most activities except low-volume operations such as when hobbyists restore or customize one or two personal vehicles (or the equivalent in pieces) per year. The EPA rule establishes "best practices" (spray booth, spray gun cleaning, etc.) for minimizing HAP emissions during surface coating operations. All shops are effectively required to have a filtered spray booth or prep station and use high-volume low-pressure (HVLP) or equivalent spray equipment. Spray guns are required to be cleaned manually or with an enclosed spray gun washer. According to the EPA, if new equipment is required to meet the requirements, the costs should be recouped through a more efficient use of labor and materials. (It should be noted that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires commercial spray finishing operations to be performed in a booth or similar enclosure.) The HAP rule does not apply to painting done with an airbrush or hand-held non-refillable aerosol cans.
Hobbyists frequently ask us about the rules governing engine switching in project vehicles. First of all, those engaged in engine switching activities are bound by specific state laws that may vary from state to state. Having said that, there are some general guidelines one may consider. This article will cover the rules for switching the engine in production-type vehicles (but not specially constructed vehicles, street rods, kit cars, and the like). The basic rule of engine switching (as opposed to installing a "replacement" engine) is that the change must do no harm. This means that the engine being installed must theoretically be at least as "clean" as the one taken out. Several requirements may define "clean" for the purposes of engine switching:
Model Year: The engine to be installed must be the same age or newer than the one being replaced. Crate engines can be used if they are configured to resemble an engine that was certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and/or the California Air Resources Board. This essentially means that the required emissions parts must be present on the engine.
Certification Level: The engine to be installed must come from a vehicle certified to meet the same or more stringent emissions standards than the one replaced.
Vehicle Class: An engine from a vehicle class such as a motor home, medium-duty truck, or marine application must not be used since these engines were certified to different types of emissions standards, using different tests.
System/Equipment: When swapping in a newer engine from a later-model vehicle, all of the relevant emissions control equipment must be transferred as well. This includes the carbon canister, the catalytic converter(s) and even parts of the on-board diagnostic (OBD) system. Some states have exceptions to this requirement, but the general rule is that as much of the donor vehicle's emissions system as possible should be transferred. The vehicle will likely run more efficiently with a full transfer of the system and shouldn't cause any undue heartache.
Of course, engine switching can be much more complex than described here, but these are good general rules to follow and should keep engine switchers out of trouble in most cases.
The U.S. EPA and many states have enforceable policies and guidelines on how to perform legal engine changes. For further information, please consult the EPA and California Bureau of Automotive Repair at: www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/policies/civil/caa/mobile/engswitch.pdf
Gridlock and bitter partisan politics continue to persist in Washington, D.C. and in the state capitols around the country, making positive legislative action difficult. Fortunately, the SEMA Action Network (SAN) has been breaking through the gridlock and promoting legislative solutions for the automotive hobby since 1997.
The SAN is a partnership between enthusiasts, vehicle clubs, and members of the specialty automotive parts industry in the United States and Canada who have joined forces to promote hobby-friendly legislation and oppose unfair laws. With nearly 40,000 members, 3 million contacts, and an ability to reach 30 million enthusiasts through print and press, the SAN is the premier organization defending the rights of the vehicle hobby. The SAN is free to join with no obligations or commitments.
When it comes to taking the action needed to protect the automotive hobby, only the SAN has the experience, the resources, and the dedicated network of enthusiasts to stop unreasonable bills in their tracks and keep the hobby free from overly restrictive government regulation.
The current economic and legislative environment is emboldening governments to become more aggressive with their anti-auto hobby legislation. States are seeking new avenues for generating revenue and new ways of dictating what you can and cannot do with your vehicle(s). The message government is sending is clear-the hobby needs the SEMA Action Network now more than ever. Enlist now in this fellowship of auto enthusiasts, join the SAN at www.SEMASAN.com.